Malcolm Gladwell: the extraordinary freedom to rewrite

Writers, unlike surgeons, do not have to get it right on the first try. They can write as many terrible drafts as they like, and nobody is going to die. That’s a very good thing. It’s nearly impossible to get it right on the first try.

The writer must also be a manager of him or her self. The central responsibility of the manager is to lower the bar.

One way to do that, says Malcolm Gladwell, is to rewrite. Start by getting it down on the page with a shitty first draft. Then step away. Then come back later and rewrite. Repeat. Eventually you’ll have a quality piece of writing — and you won’t have traumatized yourself in the making of it.

You can always rewrite it. You can change it. That’s the great luxury of being a writer. We’re not surgeons. The world does not hold us to our first pass. If we botch the heart — if we kill the heart patient — we just get to operate again. Ten times before we get the operation right.

So make use of that extraordinary freedom. And just get stuff down and come back to it.

I might go through it countless times. Dozens of times, sometimes. Each time I’m doing something different to it. And each time stopping well before I’m finished. I don’t want to get bogged down, and I don’t want to get sick of it. I want to keep coming back to it fresh.

Malcolm Gladwell, from his course on Masterclass


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